Why Is Golf So Hard? 10 Reasons & How To Address Them

Unlike many other sports, golf is challenging because it tests players physically, technically, mentally, and emotionally. This unique combination of demands means mastering golf requires time, patience, and often a sense of humor.

Throughout my years of playing and teaching golf, I’ve become accustomed to how golfers vent their frustration. It’s often comical, like when a playing partner at Winter Park Golf Course hit a thin, knee-high shot on the par three. As he threw his club and dropped his head in disgust, he missed seeing his ball miraculously roll into the hole for an ace!

Below, you’ll find lessons to apply from my 27 years in the golf industry to help you weather the challenges this great game can bring.

arnold palmer wearing pink jacket in from of a statue of himself on a golf course
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” – Arnold Palmer Source: Zenos Frudakis, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

1. It Requires Learning Many Skills

Here are the skills you need to learn to become a halfway competent golfer:

  • Pre-shot fundamentals: Posture, Grip and Alignment
  • Full Swing: Backswing, Transition, Downswing, Impact, Release Finish
  • Partial Swings and Specialty Shots
  • Short Game: Pitching, Bunker, and Chipping
  • Putting: Short, Mid-range, Long, or Lag Putting
  • Course Strategy and Planning
  • And likely a dozen other things 😲

So, yeah, golf demands proficiency in numerous skills, often challenging players with limited time and short attention spans. Mastering all aspects of the game requires significant dedication and effort.

It’s important to acknowledge that while there are many skilled golfers, no one has completely mastered the game. Even Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest of all time, won just over 20% of the professional events he participated in.

Golf legends like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth have all faced and overcome periods of struggle. On the other hand, some, like former World #1 David Duval, have found it harder to rebound.

The essence of golf lies in persistent effort and determination. To succeed, one must embrace the grind and continue pushing forward, regardless of the challenges faced.

2. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Hard

text messages about the one thing to be successful in golf that is to "relax and have fun" from Brendon Elliott a golf instructor

Many golfers struggle with the mental aspect of the game due to unrealistic expectations. It’s crucial for players to have a realistic understanding of their abilities and to avoid attempting overly ambitious shots that they’ve only succeeded with once in the past.

A golf round can last over 3 hours, so there’s plenty of time to overthink. Mastering the ability to stay focused and present during each shot is key, although achieving this is easier said than done.

For example, my student, Sebastian, an 18-year-old high school senior, always had the potential to excel in tournament play but hadn’t managed to break through until recently.

As highlighted in our text exchange, he finally grasped the essence of a strong mental game, shot a remarkable -4 under par, and won the event by several shots.

3. It Takes Time to Learn and Play

Practicing most days and hiring coaching could help you become a good golfer in about six months. However, it is way ahead of the norm. For many golfers, getting comfortable with the swing fundamentals can take six months.

You should plan to spend a couple of years learning the game. You’ll want to play every week or as often as you can and seek out the best resources. If you have the budget, consider working with an instructor, getting online lessons, or playing with more experienced golfers, which can also help.

Conversely, playing sporadically without practice or lessons could mean years of struggle to reach a single-digit handicap.

Golf is a lifelong learning experience, with skills evolving with age and the amount of time one can dedicate to the game, so settle in for the long haul.

4. The “Quick Fix” Products Won’t Help

Man using a plastic tool as a training aid for golf
Source: http://www.theprozone.net, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many training aids, apps, and mass-marketed programs promise to help your game quickly, some in “1 swing” or in “30 minutes.” I have nothing against training aids (I’ll share some great ones below), but many are snake oil.

Even when a product or program has merit, improper use can result in more harm than good. If you find something that looks good, read honest reviews, and if you can, get help from an experienced golfer.

Generally, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

However, I have used and continue seeking numerous aids and apps to help my students. Here are just a few examples:

Training Aids:


Check out another article of mine from Golfspan: How to Hit a Golf Ball Straight: 10 Tips

5. TikTok Tutorials Could Hold You Back

Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are abundant with golf advice, but not all guidance is equally helpful. The loudest, most visually appealing, or most outrageous content often wins on these platforms, but that doesn’t always equate to quality coaching.

Qualifications matter significantly when seeking golf advice. Many dedicated and qualified coaches have invested years in training and continue their education throughout their careers.

Conversely, some individuals on social media may excel more in marketing than in actual coaching. While qualified and successful in garnering attention online should be commended for helping the game, caution is advised against those prioritizing clicks over credible coaching.

To ensure you get the best advice, consider contacting a local PGA or LPGA Professional.

6. You’ve Been Duped By The “Tiger Woods Effect”

tiger woods after a hitting a shot on a golf course
Source: Tiger Woods – AT&T National tournament 2009. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Tiger’s legendary rise to fame has influenced many golfer’s expectations about how fast they can learn the game.

Love him or hate him (I’m on the record as loving him), there is no denying that he has done massive things for the game’s popularity for the past 27 years.

Therein lies the problem, however. Tiger’s immense popularity has brought countless people to the game, which is fantastic. The issue is it makes the game look far too easy and even does so after going through career-ending medical issues for anyone else.

Take his 2018 and 2019 comeback, which was capped off by his win at the Masters. That was the stuff of legend and inspiring, to say the least. But news flash, folks, golf is not that easy, even though he makes it look like it is!

Just because TW did it, or any of your favorite PGA or LPGA Tour stars, does not mean you can pull it off!

7. It’s Expensive To Play

  • Average cost of a round of golf in the USA: $41 (American Golf Industry Coalition)
  • Average cost of golf lessons: $80 – $125 per hour
  • Golf club sets start around $500
  • Better golf club sets are easily more than $1000

Golf is expensive, whether you’re buying equipment, coaching, or playing. But you can play plenty of golf and get as good as you’d like by deploying some strategies I’ve used.

First, most people think golf costs more than $41 per round, so if that’s you, look around for more budget places to play. You can also add more days at the driving range, which is cheaper.

Even though golf lessons can cost as much as $125 per hour, many instructors provide packages where you buy lessons in bulk to help reduce the cost per hour. That is all I do. I only do lesson packages but charge a monthly fee.

When most golfers look to invest in their game, the usual route is an expensive driver or maybe a set of wedges. The best money you will ever spend is on coaching and instruction, first and foremost.

You can also try group classes and clinics, which cost as low as $15 to $25 an hour.

Additionally, you could read some of the best golf instruction books. Here are a few suggestions:

8. Golf Requires Athleticism


Golf is a sport that demands athleticism, contrary to what many non-golfers believe. To excel in golf, your body needs to support a proper golf swing, which includes fitness focused on golf-specific movements.

Regular stretching, warming up, and adhering to a golf fitness routine are crucial for performance and injury prevention.

Even when performed correctly, the golf swing can be demanding on the body, especially if you are not adequately loosened up. Tight back, hips, and core muscles and overrotation during play can lead to golf injuries. Unfortunately, those who generally overlook fitness might not prioritize it for golf.

Consider my student, Nico, 15, who has consistently worked out, focusing on exercises to enhance his game, especially in driving distance. As a result, Nico’s drive has improved from an average of 220 yards to 275 yards.

Golf improvement revolves around enhancing flexibility and speed. This includes increasing the range of motion in your hips and upper torso, strengthening your core and legs, and practicing with weighted clubs.

Using a speed radar while swinging can help increase your swing speed. These efforts combine to enhance your golf performance significantly.

9. No Playing Field is the Same

Golf courses are like fingerprints; they’re all unique with various challenges. Therefore, you must learn to adapt your game to something different each time you tee it up on a new course.

If all you play is your home course, you can get good at playing it. Let’s say, however, that after five years of playing golf at just one course, you get invited to play in an event at another golf course. You will be in for a shock most of the time.

It is not simply the course design, which is always unique to each course; it is also the conditions of the turf. The greens alone can drive people mad when one course is rolling at a stemp (a measure of green speed) of 8, and the other is at 11.

Some of the courses I have played a lot have been shorter. Take, for example, the Winter Park Golf Course, a short, 9-hole par 35 track. It is very tight off the tee, and the greens are often fast. If you are off just a bit, it can get you. I’ve shot as low as a 29 there and as high as…I will keep that bad score to myself 😁

I have also played Arnold Palmers Bay Hill Club and Lodge on several occasions right after the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and it was a very difficult experience. It’s fun but difficult playing the conditions the pros play, with high, rough, and fast greens.

10. Golf is Hard Because You Make it Hard

Golfers are notorious for being their worst enemy and often sabotage a round by doing any combination of the previous items on this list.

After a poor round, golfers often ask themselves, “Why am I not getting better at golf?” They usually know the answers to these questions but either refuse to acknowledge the truth or are unwilling or unable to do what it takes to get better.

You can play good golf…it is possible. You must avoid the most common pitfalls and work on your game. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the experience as you play!

As a coach of teenage competitive golfers, I always deal with this aspect. It is tough sometimes, as emotions and elevated expectations often get the better of kids with really good skills. We work on this often. In fact, for some, it is a main theme of our work.

I am sure that being a teenager does not make this an exclusive problem for golfers in that age group. Anyone reading this that plays golf at any age can surely understand.

More from me on Golfspan: How To Get Better At Golf: 15 Proven Ways


Is Golf Really the Hardest Sport?

While golf is not the most physically demanding, its mental and emotional challenges make it one of the hardest sports. The difficulty of golf lies not in its physical toll but in the mental resilience and emotional control it demands from players.

Is Golf a Stressful Sport?

Take it from a golfer of 40 years and someone who has spent the last 27 years trying to help golfers enjoy the game…it can indeed get stressful. On the other hand, it is one of the best sports in the world and can bring great pleasure to those who play, regardless of how well they play. It is all about mindset!

Brendon is Class A PGA Professional and founded Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He won 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development Award. He graduated from the PGA of America Management Program and has a handicap index of 7.8.

He has played golf for over 40 years and currently plays twice a month at the Eagle Dunes Golf Club near Sorrento, Florida. He loves Srixon clubs and plays a ZX5 driver with Z 585 irons. He's written over 60 articles on GolfSpan and specializes in sharing tips to improve your golf game. You can connect with Brendon at LinkedIn, X, IG, FB, his website, or BrendonElliott@pga.com.

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